Television: Game of Thrones, “The Iron Throne”

I’m not really going to focus on this episode specifically so much as discuss… Well, anyway, let’s look at why some people were angry with Daenerys’ arc, etc. At least as much as I understand it, though I’d be happy if others would weigh in via the comments. (So long as you remain polite and respectful.)

Dany spent the first few seasons struggling, gathering, strategizing. She became a powerful woman, and she became what many considered a possible savior to free the Seven Kingdoms from Lannister evil. Certainly she felt that way, that it was her destiny to rule, and she persuaded enough people to back her. So when she skewed toward becoming a tyrant herself, many people felt this was out of character for her. Many were upset that this strong female character was being eclipsed by Jon Snow, the “rightful heir.” Jon being painted as a completely good, decidedly uncomplicated guy who “always does what’s right.”

But, truly, Dany showed tyrannical tendencies early on. She’s always been ruthless and focused on her singular goal. So I didn’t find it out of character at all, really. And I can understand the irritation about the way women are portrayed in GoT. The ruling women were invariably autocratic, though their motivations were always different. Cersei wanted power for power’s sake; Dany truly believed she would remake the world as a better place.

What about Sansa and Arya then? The bone of contention there is that both became strong female characters through a certain amount of personal trauma. My understanding of the backlash is that women in GoT are never just strong in their own right. They’ve been beaten into swords by enduring the heat of the fire and the blows of the hammer against the anvil. The underlying messages of: “A woman who wants power is bad” and “a woman cannot be powerful unless she’s been traumatized or disowns her gender” are problematic. The narrative of “this nice [white] boy will save us” is also not great.

Still. I have no real problems with the way the story played out except that it felt rushed in the final couple seasons. A bit more character development could have saved everyone a lot of vexation, so that things like Jamie’s departure from Winterfell wouldn’t have felt so abrupt. The past couple season have barreled through plot points, which I feel is part of what has left some viewers unsatisfied.

I am not one of those viewers. While I can wish differently for some of the characters, realistically this feels fair. (To me, anyway.) It feels true to the nature of the show and to the world as it has been built. This was never a fairy tale. It’s always been a story about how people who want power probably shouldn’t have it, and what happens when they get it and are greedy for more. It’s a story of how any one person (or family) holding that power creates ever more problems. And yet… despite much upheaval, the system remains largely the same. People live and die, wars are fought, and the world goes on. For better or worse. It balances itself.

The wheel doesn’t break. It just turns.

As for petitions to rewrite things, well… I think in the day and age of social media, where there is more contact than ever before between fans and (sometimes) content creators, fans feel entitled to dictate the direction of the shows they enjoy. And that, to me, is unmerited. Fans aren’t in the writers’ room, they don’t get to pitch the story lines they’d like to see. That’s what fan fiction is for. And I’m sure there’s about to be scads of GoT fics.

San Francisco Writers Conference: Day 3

I didn’t attend any sessions Sunday morning because I was going to be pitching to agents at 11:00 and knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on what was being said. I’d just be checking my watch. Constantly. So after breakfast (at which the agents all introduced themselves and told everyone what kinds of books they were looking for), I went up to my room to attempt to stay calm, and also to pack.

I’ll talk about the pitching in another post. Here I’ll talk about the last session I did attend before leaving the conference. This was after pitching to the agents, and it was a session about “Populating Your Tribe” and building a fan base. It was run by Evan Karp and Ransom Stephens. The two of them were quite entertaining, in the way where one is made to think they should have their own podcast or radio show or something.

However, I’m not sure how much I walked away with in terms of building a fan base, except to say they emphasized getting involved in the local arts scene. Karp runs Litseen and Quiet Lightning and Stephens is known for LitQuake—both San Francisco-based events. For people not from the area, they suggested finding the scene in your own area, or starting one if there isn’t any. Of course, only do as much as you’re comfortable doing. Don’t start a reading series if you don’t have the time to keep it up, or if it’s painful for you to put yourself out there in that way.

But if you do want to start something, here are some easy steps:

  • Pick a venue. (Don’t forget to ask the manager if it’s okay to invite a group in.)
  • Pick a date. (And make sure the venue is okay with it. Also be sure your date doesn’t overlap with some other big event.)
  • Invite! Find authors, writers, etc.

Pretty simple. And if it’s a success, make it a regular thing.

If you don’t want to run your own show, try volunteering at someone else’s. Especially at a festival or conference, this can be a great way to get in for free and still meet lots of people.

It’s really up to you how much you want to do or how involved you want to be. Just remember that whatever rewards you reap are often directly related to how much time and energy you invest.

Once More with Feeling: Being a Fan Doesn’t Mean You Have to Be Blind (In Fact, REAL Fans Aren’t)

We’ve talked about this before, and we’ll probably do it again. You can chalk it up to my protesting too much if you like, but it’s simply that every now and then someone posts an article that is tangentially related. (In this case, should you fail to click on the link, the article is: “How Steven Moffat Ruined Doctor Who.”)

It’s no big secret that I have problems with Steven Moffat. I might feel differently if he could be bothered to act less smug and self-aggrandizing. And I’d say that’s beside the point, but it’s not really. He doesn’t allow for an open dialogue outside of his personal circle—a circle he controls. So . . . Whatever. That’s another discussion for another time.

What’s on the agenda here is the way Moffat and his supporters/fans react to criticism of him and his work. There is the smugness, and the insinuation that detractors are simply too stupid to “get it” or are otherwise jealous of Moffat’s great work and intellect. It’s not a terribly useful way to go about things, but it does close the door to discussion, which as I’ve mentioned seems to be the ultimate goal. Moffat doesn’t like to be questioned or second guessed, and he certainly doesn’t like to leave himself open to the possibility that he might not be, in fact, the smartest person in the room.

But here’s the thing. True fans of something—a television program, a person, a singer—will be the ones willing to point out when the emperor has no clothes. They do not blindly and slavishly drool over every little line of dialogue. Think of it this way: are your real friends the ones who let you walk around with spinach in your teeth, telling you all the while how great you look? Or are they the ones who’ll point out that bit of green so you can fix it before the flashbulbs go off? Do you want fans who worship you without filter, or do you want people who can think a little bit?

There is something rabid and unstable about fans who refuse to brook any conversation about where a show (or showrunner, or actor, &c.) falls down, something almost Nazi-like in their devotion as they blindly participate in follow the leader. The same can be said, of course, of those so adamantly opposed to a writer, show, what-have-you, those who seem to hate for the very sake of it or who blow their reasoning out of proportion . . . A lack of rationality and an almost religious fervor cause the ground to fall out from under any hope of finding and fixing any problems with the show in question. No one is willing to compromise.

I do think the article linked to above is well written and considered. I can certainly agree that Moffat has a terrible tendency to borrow and regurgitate from other sources, and sometimes even from his own work, to the point that it all becomes much the same. And yes, he’s made The Doctor and Sherlock Holmes—characters with rich backgrounds and history—into cute and, in many ways, far less clever versions of their originals (or even of other incarnations of the same). These are valid points worthy of discussion. Can changes be made, courses corrected? With or without Moffat? In the case of Doctor Who, there is always room for change; the very fabric of the show is woven just for that. As for Sherlock, well, Moffat holds the corner on the current BBC take, but there will always be more Holmes somewhere (Elementary preems on CBS in just a couple more weeks). And in ANY case, if Moffat would just open his door to some fresh blood and new perspectives, general opinions of him might change for the better.

I’ll admit, then, that I am not without bias on that score. I’ve been denied the opportunity to write for either of Moffat’s current programs, and not for lack of trying (nor for lack of talent or ability, at least according to some sources—and no, I don’t mean family or friends). That doesn’t make the arguments against some of his work any less valid, mind. And don’t they say you should be nice to people on the way up, and then again when you’re at the top, because what goes up . . .

Of Comic-Con and Graphic Novels

Pretty much everyone knows Comic-Con is happening in San Diego right now. (And there are a lot of Comic-Cons, I realize, but San Diego is really THE Comic-Con.) I’ve always wanted to go, and now that I have a home base on the West Coast, I’m thinking I might try to attend next year.

Mostly, I’m curious. I’ve been to conventions, though not in many, many years, and never one quite as large as Comic-Con. I even dressed up for a con once . . . An anime convention, it was, and a costume designer friend dudded me up as Touga from Shoujo Kakumei Utena. That was different.

I’ve attended a number of conventions as an invited guest, too. That’s usually fun because they get you a room and feed you and such (except once, in a time before cell phones were common, I was forgotten at the airport). It can be a little stressful, too, though, if you’re shy like I am and a bunch of people want pictures and for you to sign things. I really don’t mind, I’m just terribly awkward. Once you get me settled somewhere with a group of people I can really get to know, I’m much better. I like talking to people, but I hate superficial conversations; I want to get into the meat of things. Otherwise I just don’t see the point.

In any case, a friend of mine (we were coworkers at a big textbook publisher way back when) is now a graphic artist in Denver and makes the trek to Comic-Con every year. Wouldn’t mind stopping by his booth to check out his latest work. (If you’ve never read Byron, you should, it’s a hoot. And Karl’s style is singular.)

I’ve always wanted to try writing a graphic novel myself, but I have no idea how to go about it. I do have an idea for one, or a series of them rather, but I can’t draw—took lessons and everything, not like I haven’t tried, but my brain doesn’t work that way—and as I understand it, writing a comic or graphic novel script is different in some ways from, well, pretty much every other kind of writing. I do prose and I do plays and I do film and television scripts, but I’ve never even looked at a comic book “script” (if that’s what they’re called?) so I have no clue. Maybe I’ll look into it, though. Maybe this is how I’ll get back into writing. Just something completely different.

Popularity v Infalibility

I’ve worked with enough high-power types in the industry to have begun noticing an interesting trend: once they become popular or have a popular film or television program, they begin to equate being popular with being right. Infalible. That they can do no wrong. They cease to feel any need to listen to reason and ignore anything and anyone who might even have helpful or constructive criticism.

The issue in large part stems from the fact that the entertainment industry equates popularity with success. Well, popularity is success because popular things make money, and at the end of the day that’s what the biz is all about. And there’s this weird kind of cycle to these things, where once you’ve had a big hit (or a few, but sometimes it only takes the one—really depends on the size of the hit), people begin to pander to you and fawn over you. You start to get what you want pretty much all the time. No one tells you “no.” And you begin to believe their own hype. They want to believe it. Who wouldn’t? That you’re perfect, wonderful, the best thing to ever happen (at least this week or month or season).

It’s one thing to be pleased that people like you and your work. It’s another entirely to be pleased with yourself about it.

And it’s easy to say, “Well, if all these people like me and my work, then the people who are saying otherwise just don’t know what they’re talking about.” But I’ve learned something about this way of thinking. It’s facile and self-serving. Because to be popular really means that you appeal to the lowest common denominator of society. In the entertainment industry, serving these large swaths of patrons is generally a sure way to win success, when success is measured by ratings and box office. BUT . . . The bottom line is, this also means that your potential detractors are probably a tad more sophisticated. So those few people pointing out the flaws and problems in your otherwise “perfect” show or movie or career? They might actually know what they’re talking about. Or at least more than you give them credit for.

Entertainment is a democracy in that popular “votes” (ticket sales, television ratings) win the day. But just look at how well these people manage politics and you’ll see their favor isn’t always a sign you’re as wonderful as you think you are. It’s really the jester on the sidelines—the one who sees the truth behind it all—you should aim to impress.

The Trouble with Fans

This is something I’ve noticed with fans of television shows (and I’m sure it could go for other forms of media, but TV has been where I see it most): they aren’t terribly discerning.

What I mean is, once these people, or groups of people, decide they like something (a show), they like everything about it. It’s always wonderful and brilliant and so forth. It can do no wrong, never falls short. And they can’t stand to have anyone say otherwise. It’s as if these people, in becoming fans, have lost all critical filter.

I get so sick of reading one-note reviews of things saying they’re simply awesome, amazing, &c. So . . . You liked it? As a viewer and/or reviewer, you enjoyed it, okay, but what else? Did you stop to take a breath before writing down how great it was? Think it over a little, even just in the shower?

I like a lot of television shows, call myself a fan of a few, but that doesn’t prevent me from finding flaws in them. I am no blind devotee. In fact, I find blind devotion to be a sort of disservice to the hard work put into a television program, as if the show were not worthy of really, seriously considering. I like to think about the shows I enjoy, and I also like to think those who write and create those shows want me to think about them. And when I (personally, subjectively) find something falling short, mentioning it does not make me an evil person who must not be a “real” fan. It merely means I am thoughtful and capable of reason. Nothing is perfect, after all. Not me, and also not the show or the people who make it.

There are so many people who are absolutely rabid. They all but call you a heretic if you make even the slightest comment that something about a show might not be quite right, or suggest something might have been done better. It hardly makes a show feel welcoming when the gates are guarded by such ones. One is almost predisposed to avoid the shows with the big fan bases because, Jesus, is it worth the potential fight?

I, myself, prefer discussion. I’m willing to listen as well as speak, so long as I’m also listened to and there is no shouting involved. For me, the enjoyment of a show isn’t in its imagined perfection, but in the details that have been so lovingly placed by the show’s makers. Even when they’re flawed. Because beauty isn’t really in perfection, it’s in the interesting quality born of imperfections.

Touchy Actors

Winona Ryder once commented on how she disliked the way people were always touching her because she’s an actor. She said people seemed to think actors are “public property.” I can certainly understand her issues. But having worked with and met my share of actors and musicians and whatnot, can I just point out they often think it’s okay to touch people at random, and that we’re not only supposed to like it but be grateful for it?

This has happened to me many times, and I find it just as presumptuous on the actors’ parts as Ryder finds it to be in what she must think of as “common” people. Maybe most people would love being petted by someone famous, but I’m as likely to take a limb as smile at you, so fair warning there, friends.

To be fair, I’ve met and worked with almost as many actors and musicians who have been very respectful and treated me well, so I don’t like to assume it’s a wide-spread epidemic. One British rocker I met when I was 17 treated me like a daughter, which is to say he made sure I didn’t touch the beer and stuck to soda. We talked history and literature, and it was a lovely evening, without a single mention of Lolita. So there’s evidence it can be done.

But for every one of those I’ve met, there are probably two that felt the need to slip an arm around me or—and I’m thinking of one particular actor, very charming but also very pleased with himself—touch my hair. People I don’t even know well, often have only just met, and I find that very odd and off-putting.

Look, when I meet actors or musicians on set or for an interview, I shake their hands and greet them. When I meet actors or musicians at a function or restaurant, I shake their hands and greet them. When I’m introduced to or meet random people on the street, I shake their hands and greet them. Do you see?

My mother always wonders why I don’t take pictures of myself with all these people, but I feel like that’s weird too. When you’re on set, everyone is busy, no one is stopping to snap photos. Maybe at the wrap party or something, but otherwise, no. And you don’t want to be that person, the one who doesn’t know any better and wants to take pictures and grin like an idiot every time someone famous is around. And no one wants to have to worry all the time that someone might be taking a picture, either.

And then, when I’m just hanging out with someone, again, it feels weird to stop and demand a photo. I think the generation or two younger than me does this a lot more, maybe because they came up with cameras on their phones; even back when I was an undergrad, taking a picture usually meant running to get an actual camera. It was something that took time, and everyone always thinking, How long is this going to take? and, How long to we have to stand here?

I was once a guest at a sci-fi convention, there as a writer, and I was really surprised when people wanted pictures with me. But I think that was because I write, and I work in such isolated circumstances that I’m startled whenever I realize the outside world exists and may even notice me. Actors probably aren’t surprised at all when people want pictures, but they might be annoyed by or just tired of it. Which is another reason I tend not to ask. I do try to be sympathetic. And so I don’t immediately go in for a hug or a kiss, either, unless it’s someone I already know. There’s sometimes a phony aspect to a lot of the industry—a “we’re all friends here” game of pretend—but we’re not, and I don’t pretend. I like to get to know a person before I put my hands on them, and let them do the same to me. So, Winona: if we ever meet, don’t touch me. At least not before we’ve had coffee, gone shopping, and taken at least one photo together.

Dueling Sherlocks

I was asked the other night, in light of fans of BBC One’s Sherlock frothing at the mouth over CBS’ Elementary, why there isn’t room for more than one [in this case modern] reinterpretation of Sherlock Holmes. That is to say: the question was why fans of one couldn’t be fans of the other as well.

Potential infringement issues aside (Sherlock Holmes is a public domain character and this subject is touchy), I have to say, although there isn’t any reason a person couldn’t like both programs, it seems unlikely. In my response I reminded the person that “fan” is short for “fanatic” and then likened the whole issue to churches. People join a church. They really like it there, try to persuade others to visit in the hopes those people will join too. And if another group comes along and builds a new church just up the street, the adherents to the first church are generally not very welcoming. In fact, they’re angry at the encroachment. Their church is the best. There is no need for another.

And people don’t typically join more than one church. A few might, but those people are rare and are generally looking for something else entirely. For example, they are the people who find God in numerous places and are willing to worship Him wherever and whenever. In this instance, they are the core fans of Sherlock Holmes as a character, not just fans of a particular take. (Yes, I did just, in fact, make Sherlock Holmes analogous to God; he’d be pleased.) Even still, these people are likely to prefer one house of worship over another, though they’ll make the rounds regularly to get their fill.

Meanwhile, purists will already have taken issue with modernizing Holmes. Further removing him from London to New York may rankle even more. Who can tell?

To summarize: there is room for more churches, provided one has the cash to purchase the real estate and the resources to build. But attendance is not guaranteed, not for any show. As for me, I’ll see who and what gets delivered before passing judgment.

Fakes on Twitter

I’m sort of having to laugh because it’s like watching—or reading, rather—a soap opera. You see, there are these two people on Twitter masquerading as Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I’m following them both because I find it highly entertaining. But I keep getting DMs from random people letting me know they’re fake. Yes, I do know this. But it’s like a train wreck, and I can’t look away.

I realize I shouldn’t encourage them, by following them or responding to them. But it’s a kind of a game. And I want to see how it all ends.

Anyway, the one pretending to be Benedict has followed me, and we all know the rule of Twitter: that you don’t unfollow someone who follows you unless you want them to unfollow you, too. This probably shouldn’t matter to me, and before long I’ll be too busy (really, I’m too busy now) to keep up with all the back and forth. But I’ve been getting over a nasty cold, and this is keeping my spirits up. Though “Mr Cumberbatch” has ceased to respond to me, I think because he’s beginning to be aware that I know enough to know better when he does reply. (Never mind his use of “use” for, from what I can gather, “yous”? As in “yous guys”? Boggling.) We’ll see what happens when they don’t get verified by Twitter, and/or are otherwise unable to “prove” themselves, &c.

I’m no lawyer; I don’t know if there are legal ramifications for pretending to be someone you aren’t on a social media site. It’s rather like role playing, I suppose, but when you use real people and real names . . . It seems to me there could be defamation issues or something.

Does make one wonder why someone would pretend to be a celebrity. I mean, besides the attention and adulation, I suppose. Is your own life really that bland that you need to soak up someone else’s? And impose yourself on the unsuspecting fan base at large?

Maybe they’re delusional. Maybe they’re fans who’ve gone a bit too far. No idea. But it’s weirdly riveting.

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For the curious, the fakers’ Twitter handles are @mrcumberbatch and @mrmartinfreeman.

Doctor Who Movie Rumors

Okay, so this is something I find interesting: today I received an e-mail from Variety, to which as someone in “the industry” I subscribe. It announced that David Yates–helmer of some of the Harry Potter films–was teaming up with the BBC to do a Doctor Who movie. NOT one that has anything to do with the current television program, mind you. The movie would be all new, its own thing.

This makes sense in a broad audience appeal kind of way. You don’t necessarily want to launch a movie franchise that requires viewers to slog through a lot of backlog. Look at the X-Files movies. Hell, I watched that series and still didn’t understand those films. Never mind people who went in cold.

Now there’s no script and no cast yet, just some big names behind getting the project off the ground. (By the way, if they want a script, I’d be happy to oblige . . .) Other, previous attempts have not borne fruit, so there’s reason to think the odds of anything happening are 50/50.

But what I really find intriguing is the protest-too-much reaction I’ve witnessed on Twitter. So many people in the DW camp coming out and saying that it’s just a rumor, there’s nothing in it. Really? Because I can usually trust Variety. I won’t say they’re always right, but Yates had some quotes in there that made this project sound very possible. So why the fuss? Do they see this as a rival instead of a boost? Do they only want a DW movie if Moffat and Smith and co. are involved?

The issue of creative control is always a touchy one. And fan loyalty plays into the dynamics as well in terms of planning big projects. Anyone who’s had to adapt a bestselling, much-loved novel knows that. And here is a possible recasting of a cult classic television program, so there’s bound to be some strong feelings involved. Though in the end it’s a legal issue of who has rights to what, whose contracts say what and so on.

I, for one, am curious to see what comes of it, if anything. After all, people had reservations about the television show, too, when it rebooted in 2005. They had doubts when David Tennant was replaced by Matt Smith, too. But it’s all turned out okay so far. Why have so little faith now?

Wait and see is the watchword. (And maybe consider Benny Cumberbatch for the film version of the Doctor. We already know he can rock a scarf.)